VATICAN CITY – In an Easter message highlighting hope, Pope Francis on Sunday invoked prayers for both the Ukrainian and Russian people, praised nations which welcome refugees, and called on Israelis and Palestinians wracked by the latest surge in deadly violence to forge a "climate of trust."
Francis, along with dozens of prelates and tens of thousands of faithful, marked Christianity’s most joyful day with Mass in a flower-adorned St. Peter’s Square. Easter proclaims the Christian belief that Jesus rose from the dead after crucifixion.
The 86-year-old pontiff topped the celebration with a traditional speech about troubled places in the world. Encouraging "trust among individuals, peoples and nations," Francis said the joyful expression of Easter "illumines the darkness and gloom in which, all too often, our world finds itself enveloped."
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The pope's Easter message is known by its Latin name, "Urbi et Orbi," which means "to the city and the world."
Since Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine in February 2022, Francis has repeatedly called for the fighting to end and sought prayers for the "martyred" Ukrainian people.
Ukrainian diplomats have complained that he hasn't come down hard enough in his statements on Russia and particularly Russian President Vladimir Putin as the Vatican tries to avoid alienating Russia.
"Help the beloved Ukrainian people on their journey towards peace, and shed the light of Easter upon the people of Russia,'' Francis implored God in his Easter speech, which he delivered while sitting in a chair on the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica facing the square. "Comfort the wounded and all those who have lost loved ones because of the war, and grant that prisoners may return safe and sound to their families."
He urged the international community to work to end the war in Ukraine and "all conflict and bloodshed in the world, beginning with Syria, which still awaits peace." Francis also prayed for those who lost loved ones in an earthquake that struck Syria and Turkey two months ago, claiming tens of thousands of lives.
Pope Francis presides the Easter Mass at St. Peter’s Square on April 09, 2023 in Vatican City, Vatican. Following the liturgy, the Holy Father gave the traditional ‘Blessing Urbi et Orbi’- to the city of Rome, and to the world. (Photo by Franco Origl Expand
With a renewal in deadly violence affecting both Israelis and Palestinians in recent days, Francis called for a "resumption of dialogue, in a climate of trust and reciprocal respect, between Israelis and Palestinians, so that peace may reign in the Holy City and in the entire region,'' a reference to Jerusalem.
But Francis also noted progress on some fronts.
"Let us rejoice at the concrete signs of hope that reach us from so many countries, beginning with those that offers assistance and welcome to all fleeing war and poverty," he said, without naming any particular nations.
How to care for asylum-seekers, migrants and refugees, and whether to allow them entrance, is a raging political and social debate in much of Europe, as well in the United States and elsewhere.
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The bloody conflicts cited by Francis contrasted with a riot of bright colors lent by orange-red tulips, yellow sprays of forsythia and daffodils, hyacinths and other colorful seasonal flowers that decorated St. Peter's Square. The blooms were trucked in trucks from the Netherlands and set up in planters to decorate the Vatican square.
Some 45,000 people had gathered by the start of the mid-morning Mass, according to Vatican security services, but the crowd swelled to some 100,00 ahead of the noon appointment for the pontiff's speech from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica overlooking the square.
A canopy on the edge of steps on the square sheltered the pontiff, who was back in the public eye 12 hours after a 2.25-hour long Easter vigil ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica the night before.
Still recovering from bronchitis, Francis, 86, skipped the traditional Good Friday procession at Rome’s Colosseum due to unseasonably cold nighttime temperatures.
Francis has generally rebounded following a three-day stay last week at a Rome hospital where he was administered antibiotics intravenously for bronchitis. He was discharged on April 1.
But near the end of the more than two-hour-long Easter Sunday appearance, Francis seemed to start running out of steam. His voice grew hoarse and he interrupted his speech at one point to cough.